Texas Pacific Railway Company v. Rigsby

Decision Date17 April 1916
Docket NumberNo. 523,523
Citation60 L.Ed. 874,36 S.Ct. 482,241 U.S. 33
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. F. H. Prendergast for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 34 intentionally omitted] Mr. S. P. Jones for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 35 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Pitney delivered the opinion of the court:

The defendant in error, Rigsby, while in the employ of plaintiff in error as a switchman in its yard at Marshall, Texas, was engaged, with others of the yard crew, in taking some 'bad order' cars to the shops there to be repaired. The switch engine and crew went upon a spur track, hauled out three cars, and switched them upon the main line, intending to go back upon the spur track for others, to be taken with the three to the shops, which were on the opposite side of the main line from the spur track. Rigsby, in the course of his duties, rode upon the top of one of the cars (a box car) in order to set the brakes and stop them and hold them upon the main line. He did this, and while descending from the car to return to the spur track he fell, owing to a defect in one of the hand holds or grab irons that formed the rungs of the ladder, and sustained personal injuries. This car had been out of service and waiting on the spur track for some days, perhaps a month. The occurrence took place September 4, 1912. In an action for damages, based upon the Federal Safety Appliance acts,1 the above facts appeared without dispute, and it was admitted that the main line of defendant's railroad was in daily use for the passage of freight and passenger trains in interstate commerce. The trial court instructed the jury, as matter of law, that they should return a verdict in favor of plaintiff, the only question submitted to them being the amount of the damages. The railway company excepted to this charge, and requested certain specific instructions based upon the theory that the car was out of service and marked 'bad order,' which was notice to Rigsby of its condition; that there was no evidence that the condition of the car had resulted from any negligence of defendant; that it was at the time being taken to the shop for repairs; and that for these reasons plaintiff could not recover. The instructions were refused, and exceptions taken. The resulting judgment was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 138 C. C. A. 51, 222 Fed. 221.

It is insisted that Rigsby was not within the protection of the act because he was not coupling or uncoupling cars at the time he was injured. The reference is to § 4 of the act of March 2, 1893, which requires 'secure grab irons or hand holds in the ends and sides of each car for greater security to men in coupling and uncoupling cars.' This action was not based upon that provision, however, but upon § 2 of the amendment of 1910, which declares: 'All cars must be equipped with secure sill steps and efficient hand brakes; all cars requiring secure ladders and secure running boards shall be equipped with such ladders and running boards, and all cars having ladders shall also be equipped with secure hand holds or grab irons on their roofs at the tops of such ladders.' There can be no question that a box car having a hand brake operated from the roof requires also a secure ladder to enable the employee to safely ascend and descend, and that the provision quoted was intended for the especial protection of employees engaged in duties such as that which plaintiff was performing.

It is earnestly insisted that Rigsby was not under the protection of the safety appliance acts because, at the time he was injured, he was not engaged in interstate commerce. By § 1 of the 1903 amendment its provisions and requirements and those of the act of 1893 were made to apply 'to all trains, locomotives, tenders, cars, and similar vehicles used on any railroad engaged in interstate commerce . . . and to all other locomotives, tenders, cars, and similar vehicles used in connection therewith,' subject to an exception not now pertinent.' And by § 5 of the 1910 amendment the provisions of the previous acts were made to apply to that act, with a qualification that does not affect the present case. In Southern R. Co. v. United States, 222 U. S. 20, 56 L. ed. 72, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 2, 3 N. C. C. A. 822, which was an action to recover penalties for a violation of the acts with respect to cars some of which were moved in intrastate traffic, and not in connection with any car or cars used in interstate commerce, but upon a railroad which was a part of a through highway for interstate traffic, it was held that the 1903 amendment enlarged the scope of the original act so as to embrace all cars used on any railway that is a highway of interstate commerce, whether the particular cars are at the time employed in such commerce or not. The question whether the legislation as thus construed was within the power of Congress under the commerce clause was answered in the affirmative, the court saying (p. 27): 'Speaking only of railroads which are highways of both interstate and intrastate commerce, these things are of common knowledge: Both classes of traffic are at times carried in the same car, and when this is not the case, the cars in which they are carried are frequently commingled in the same train and in the switching and other movements at terminals. Cars are seldom set apart for exclusive use in moving either class of traffic, but generally are used interchangeably in moving both; and the situation is much the same with trainmen, switchmen, and like employees, for they usually, if not necessarily, have to do with both classes of traffic. Besides, the several trains on the same railroad are not independent in point of movement and safety, but are interdependent, for whatever brings delay or disaster to one, or results in disabling one of its operatives, is calculated to impede the progress and imperil the safety of other trains. And so the absence of appropriate safety appliances from any part of any train is a menace not only to that train, but to others.'

It is argued that the authority of that case goes no further than to sustain the penal provisions of the act and does not uphold a right of action by an employee injured through a violation of its provisions, unless he was engaged in interstate commerce. That the scope of the legislation is broad enough to include all employees thus injured, irrespective of the character of the commerce in which they are engaged, is plain. The title of the act, repeated in that of each supplement, is general: 'An Act to Promote the Safety of Employees and Travelers,' etc.; and in the proviso to § 4 of the supplement of 1910 there is a reservation as to 'liability in any remedial action for the death or injury of any railroad employee.' None of the acts, indeed, contains express language conferring a right of action for the death or injury of an emplouee; for the death or injury of an employee; is their principal object, and the right of private action by an injured employee, even without the employers' liability act, has never been doubted. (See Johnson v. Southern P. Co. 196 U. S. 1, 49 L. ed. 363, 25 Sup. Ct. Rep. 158, 17 Am. Neg. Rep. 412; Schlemmer v. Buffalo, R. & P. R. Co. 205 U. S. 1, 8, 51 L. ed. 681, 684, 27 Sup. Ct. Rep. 407, 220 U. S. 590, 592, 55 L. ed. 596, 598, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 561; St. Louis, I. M. & S. R. Co. v. Taylor, 210 U. S. 281, 284, 295, 52 L. ed. 1061, 1063, 1068, 28 Sup. Ct. Rep. 616, 21 Am. Neg. Rep. 466; Delk v. St. Louis & S. F. R. Co. 220 U. S. 580, 55 L. ed. 590, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 617; Cleveland, C. C. & St. L. R. Co. v. Baker, 33 C. C. A. 468, 63 U. S. App. 553, 91 Fed. 224; Denver & R. G. R. Co. v. Arrighi, 63 C. C. A. 649, 129 Fed. 347; Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co. v. Voelker...

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